Tarzan is one of Disney’s best recent-times animated feature films, and yet I find that this beautiful film fails to receive the respect that it deserves among the animation-loyal. I can understand how some folks might find themselves polarized along some points: for instance, you probably won’t enjoy this film very much if you can’t at least tolerate Phil Collins. Also, some of the action sequences in the film tend to be too grandiose, and force the viewer to step too far out of the “real” world that the animated feature otherwise does an excellent job of conveying. However, I find both of these points of criticism far less incriminating that what most viewers accept in many other films that get unreservedly praised. Let’s take a glass half full approach here.
Like him or not, Phil Collins does an outstanding job interpreting the emotional core of Tarzan, winding it tighter, and integrating the film with a thematic musical language that adds dimension. Each time I watch Tarzan (must be the 10th time I’ve seen it now) I find myself more compelled by Collins' music, and where I once looked skeptically upon his work with this film, I’ve grown to accept his involvement as an indispensable part of what makes Tarzan such a powerful film; Collins' musical force is brazen and bold, and intensifies the film.
Tarzan’s visual style is stunning and bold. The art tends to use a wide range of contrast…deep blacks and bright whites to create scenes that burst with boldness. Colors are lush and saturated. The art is brilliant, animated with care, and while computer assistance was used to model much of the 3-D motion, the imagery feels seamless and (unlike other “praised” titles like Beauty and the Beast) always appears to bear the mark of hand-painted animation. Tarzan also has the best animated waterfalls I have ever seen PERIOD. If you appreciate animation, you must see Tarzan.
However, there’s one thing that stands above every other aspect of Tarzan that draws me into the film every time I watch it: Characterization. Tarzan is about relationships, and while the expected “romance” angle finds its way into the plot, the story is much more about Tarzan’s relationship to his mother, and to himself. Bambi is the only other animated title that comes close to dealing with this level of bond between a mother and child. Yes, and like Bambi if you’re easily moved by these sorts of themes you best keep the hanky handy; when Tarzan’s mother does the “close your eyes, what do you hear” lesson I lose it every time. Your mileage may vary.
The last 2-disc Tarzan SE already set a near-reference in image quality. If my eyes aren’t deceiving me, the new DVD takes that standard just a hair further by removing the slightest hint of edge-ringing I saw in the previous DVD (which was so minor as to already be negligible). I’m not 100% certain…and I’ve A/B’ed back and forth several times to try to confirm…but this new DVD feels a tad more detailed and lacks any signs of edge ringing to my eyes…I’m assuming that it’s been slightly improved (I welcome feedback on this point).
Blacks are jet black and rock solid. Whites are bold, and grayscale tracking between these points is perfect with no crush on either end of the scale. Shadow detail is perfect…all the subtle details in the painted imagery is revealed down to the very blackest value. Colors are lush and vibrant: Greens just glow with intensity and vary across a wide range of hues that seem infinite. This is one of those DVD transfers that makes you wonder…as good as this looks…what would it look like in HD?
The image is completely free from any noise of any kind. The only “artifact” that I can see is once or twice during a fade-in/fade-out to black there was a momentary banding effect. Yes, I suppose this video encoding isn’t perfect. But you don’t see me crying…far from it. I’m amazed and in awe of this stunning video presentation. When this title emerges on Blu-ray, I’ll probably have to take a day off from work to recover.
Picture Quality: 5 / 5
Note: Tarzan is presented 1.66:1 16x9 encoded. This results in narrow vertical bars (pillarboxing) on the left and right of the image. Those with CRT displays will probably not even see this vertical pillarboxing, but those with plasma or digital projectors (or with displays calibrated for minimal overscan) may notice them. Do not be alarmed: this is the proper way to present 1.66:1 transfers for maximum resolution and this gives the home viewer the opportunity to see the entire animated frame.
In the past I think I've been too ambiguous with my scoring or at least haven't applied it consistently from title to title, so I've endeavored to define my rating system more clearly to help make the scoring more meaningful (for all titles reviewed December 2004 and later):
|1-2||An absolute abomination. Hurts to watch. Think "Outland" (scan-line aliasing, chroma noise, dotcrawl)-- truly horrid.|
|2-3||Has some serious problems, but one can at least watch it without getting a headache despite all the problems though you might try to talk your guests into picking a different movie to watch if you have a large projection screen. Think Cold Mountain.|
|3-4||Good or at least "acceptable" on a big-screen, but not winning any awards and definitely room for improvement if you view the image wide-angle (though smaller-screen viewers may be quite content). Think the first extended cut of Fellowship of the Ring...decent picture but still some HF filtering and some edge-halos.|
|4-5||A reference picture that really makes the most of the DVD medium and shows extraordinary transparency to the film-source elements. Non-videophile observers can't help but remark "WOW". Think The Empire Strikes Back or the Fifth Element Superbit (full “5” would be sans EE) or the new Toy Story 10th Anniversary Edition.|
Currently running DVDs on my OPPO DVD player (Faroudja deinterlacing) which scales to 720P, feeding my BenQ 8700+ PJ via DVI, projecting onto a 106” 16x9 Dalite HiPower screen, viewed from approximately 1.6 screen-widths distance. Well mastered DVDs produce a stunningly film-like image in this scenario, and lesser-mastered material quickly shows its flaws.
When Tarzan first emerged on DVD folks whined about the “5.0” encoding that “didn’t use the .1 for the subwoofer”. People…turns out it doesn’t matter anyway…your processor routes all LFE information to your sub whether it’s “.1” or not. In any case, the original 5.0 mix was (is) spectacular, and when I saw that this new Tarzan DVD contained the original along with a new 5.1 mix, I admit that I was curious what, if any improvements might be noticeable.
I can state absolutely that the new 5.1 is sadly inferior to the original 5.0 mix in every way.
I’m a bit astonished…the difference is similar to what you might notice on titles where the DTS sounds undeniably better than the DD presentation: the original mix “sounds like DTS” in that it’s dynamic, unrestricted, vivid, and loaded with resolution. The presentation is stunning. The new 5.1 mix, by contrast, sounds more anemic…lacking in dynamics and basically “flat”. Even the bass response doesn’t seem as powerful…yes this is the “5.1” mix I’m talking about! The recording level also seems lower…and the whole thing sounds more compressed.
My guess is that the new 5.1 mix has dialog normalization applied along with some other less-than-audiophile-oriented processing for whatever reason, whereas the original 5.0 mix has more of that “DEHT” sound…not being forced to endure the usual compromises audio mastering engineers seem to force on typical 5.1 presentations.
The original 5.0 mix makes aggressive use of the multi-channel speaker array and the rear channel loses the “surround sound” character of typical mixes and instead places the listener in the center of a seamless 360 degree spread of sound that extends in all directions without changing “character” as it transitions from front-to-rear (the new 5.1 mix sounds more front-heavy to my ears...as if the surround-level has been reduced making the sound field shift forwards). From the opening scene it’s clear: close your eyes as the film begins and listen to the way that 5.0 presentation paints a seamless soundscape that fills the room without regard to rules of convention. Bravo.
If the differences audible between these two mixes are any indication, it’s possible that much of the “better” sound we sometimes associate with DTS mixes may be simply that those mixes are left less tampered with, while the 5.1 DD soundtrack is compromised by applying many of the “features” DD makes available (like dialogue normalization).
Personally, I just don’t understand it…every DVD player allows the user to apply compression on their own if they find the audio too dynamic for late-night viewing…why compromise the source? Audio mastering engineers take heed…open your ears and stop this horrible practice of dumbing-down 5.1 DD presentations for the masses…leave those multi-channel mixes ALONE. They sound better just like they are. Yes, even when they are “theater” mixes. Just resist…don’t touch…don’t touch…
Sound Quality: 5 / 5 Original 5.0 mix
Sound Quality: 3.5 / 5 New 5.1 DD mix
Ain’t much. Hardly the stuff that a “special edition” makes (look to the 2-disc SE for that)…
- [*]Commentary:Some pleasant commentary from the filmmakers that fans will definitely enjoy spending time with. I suggest you turn this on while doing chores…a great way to find time to listen to commentary without spending another 88 minutes glued to the tube.
[*]Music Videos:You get two nice Phil Collins' music videos (from the 2-disc DVD) and some new “wildly popular” Everlife band video which I refuse to watch. The Phil Collins videos look like 2nd-generation VHS tapes and you just have to wonder with all the $$$ that the music industry has to offer…can’t they afford some photoshop tools and made a decent-looking video? Of course, the video presentation isn’t surprising, and it’s nice to have them here.
[*][b]Deleted ScenesStory board sequences that were never fully animated (4x3 lbx) are presented by the filmmaker with nice discussions about the decisions to change course. I enjoy this inclusion.
[*][b]Kiddie Games:Carefully avoided.
[/list] Told ‘ya it didn’t seem enough to quality for “special edition” status to to me…
Tarzan is a underrated Disney feature that boasts a spectacular image and outstanding (original mix) sound. For those who already own the 2-disc edition, if my eyes aren’t playing tricks on me, this new DVD just edges the video quality of that previous DVD by a small margin. Audio is identical, but be sure to select the original 5.0 mix so you don’t get stuck with the inferior sound of the anemic (new) 5.1 mix. Extras are slim…and those who covet bonus features would do best to satisfy their thirst with the 2-disc SE…but if you’re a “it’s about the move” viewer, then given the outstanding audio/video presentation on this disc, if you’ve waited this long without adding Tarzan to your DVD collection, this DVD is a great chance to make it happen.
[b]RECOMMENDED for first-time purchase